Crack in the Mirror – This Guys in Disguise show is set at a late-1970’s Women’s Group meeting in a suburban home. Strident divorcée Ruth (Jason Hardwick) shows up at Melanie’s (Trevor Schmidt) finger-foods and wine event with earnest brochures and speeches about Gloria Steinem, but both of them are disappointed when nobody else comes except for the older, naive, Ginger (Jake Tkaczyk). I once heard Trevor Schmidt speak at a script reading and he said in his writing, he favours choosing kindness when possible – that there’s still lots of scope for conflict and interesting stories with characters who don’t set out to be mean to each other. And I didn’t realize it at the time – I was laughing too hard – but Crack in the Mirror is a good example of that. Varscona Theatre.
Meatball Séance – John Michael of Chicago’s solo show is infused with so much manic awkward energy that the themes of loss at its heart didn’t bring it down. Lots of audience participation bits, always with an option to decline. Sue Paterson stage at Campus St-Jean.
Mules – Directed by Kevin Sutley and with a good cast of actors from U of A Augustana (that’s the campus in Camrose), I bought a ticket for this because of the playwrights, Beth Graham and Daniela Vlaskalic. It was dark, it was twistedly funny in parts, and it managed to evoke some really disturbing things without actually showing any of them directly. It is a longer play (90 minutes), but I was really engaged with what was going to happen with these characters, played by Miracle Mopera, Kyra Gusdal, and Frank Dion. Walterdale Theatre.
Late Night Cabaret – I don’t make it to this Fringe midnight event very often, because I usually need some sleep more than I need a variety show with an amazing house band (Zee Punterz), amusing hosts from Rapid Fire Theatre, and glimpses of many of the Fringe artists and phenomena that I hadn’t yet had time to catch up with. But in the scaled-down masked-up Fringe of 2021, I managed to score one ticket to the limited run of Late Night Cabaret and when I walked in to the Backstage Theatre that night, its perfect blend of nightclub energy and community acceptance was something I hadn’t known I’d been missing. Last night’s hosts were Joleen Ballendine and Joey Lucius of Rapid Fire and the guest performers included Ingrid Hansen (Epidermis Circus), Tymisha Harris (Josephine, Josie & Grace) and Rachel Comeau (Josie & Grace), and Johnnie Walker (The Heterosexuals). Backstage Theatre.
White Guy on Stage Talking – I am stage-managing this, an innocent operations production with Jake Tkaczyk and Meegan Sweet. Like Tkaczyk’s previous innocent operations work, it includes a series of images and explorations devised on a theme, many of them topically pointed, excessively silly, or just absurd, and never takes itself too seriously. It’s fun to show audiences the things the performers and other creative contributors have been building. Walterdale Theatre.
This year’s Fringe has kept some of the innovations we first saw last year. The option to do paperless ticketing, and the move to one-step sales in the beer tents instead of the old get tickets here, give tickets there ritual. The bigger liquor-licensed area covering the old South Beer Tent and the whole of McIntyre Park (Gazebo Park) which eliminates a lot of the crowding/bottlenecks. The “no handbills” rule was easy last year as reducing the interactions between artists and patrons on site felt appropriate, and it eliminated a lot of paper. This year I think it’s more of a challenge – performers do need to engage to sell their shows, and it’s probably harder when there’s no tidy way of taking a card to wrap up the conversation. I’ve seen performers wandering in costume and wearing billboards and T-shirts with their QR codes.
The gravel parking lot (formerly Farmers’ Market parking, rebranded a few years ago to Theatre District parking) has increased in price to almost $20 for a full day, which will change my strategies a bit. Lots of my favourite food vendors (the wood fired pizza, the grilled cheese people, Fat Frank’s, the spaghetti in a cone, and the green onion cakes) are back, along with Native Delights (bannock burgers!) and something I need to try based on recommendations, BF Korean Chicken. Some people are wearing masks – more indoors than out, more performers than guests. There has obviously been some festival planning to eliminate pinch-points and bottlenecks and other non-intentional crowding, which is helpful in many ways other than reducing covid transmission.